Rendering security assistance

A deep hole
Fit for purpose

Rick Sheer, Director of Security at Northcott Global Solutions in the UK, talks about his experience of providing security assistance and looks at how best to prepare for incidents in which specialist help may be required

If I look at security assistance and what this means to me then there are naturally a few responses that come to mind. We all know assistance could come in many different forms, but I suppose what interests me the most is can they actually perform when it counts? How quickly can they help and where do they come from? The importance of the insured doing their homework on the places they visit and looking at what options they have available should not be underestimated.

Personal preparation
I’m not just talking serious problems – on occasion, even the most minor incident can escalate into something quite unexpected. It all starts with looking closer to home and personal preparation, like security awareness training, for example. This should address common do’s and don’ts, cultural sensitivities and offer balanced/practical mitigation advice. Insurance products are substantially enhanced if they provide access to such information as part of the product itself – mitigating risk for the insured and reducing the likelihood of there being an insurance claim through educating the traveller, pre-travel.

Moreover, basic medical or life support techniques and guidance on what kit and equipment to take can save lives. Some policies, primarily for business travel, offer a portion of the premium to be allocated to mitigating risk through conducting assessments, pre-travel training, developing and maintaining evacuation plans, and more. Corporates should always take advantage of this, and insurers should promote this as a value-add in their proposition, reducing the probability and size of medical and security incidents. 

More than medical
In my opinion, many holiday travel insurance policies are not fit for purpose. In the UK, a quick 999 emergency services call will usually be enough to provide the insured with reassurance that help is at hand. But what about in a remote location in the depths of the Amazon jungle? Or during a terrorist attack in Nice? Often, support can come from private and/or public sector resources depending on location. But who is around, what can they offer and, crucially, what might it cost?

I believe holiday travel products need to cover political and natural disaster assistance in addition to medical. This needs to be backed by a reliable 24-hour multilingual operations centre manned by professionals who are fully trained and ready to provide guidance on cover and security, and offer a physical response where needed. In my opinion, a reimbursement of the traveller’s emergency expenses or a simple daily benefit is not enough for the average holidaymaker, who doesn’t know the best course of action in a fluid security situation.

I believe holiday travel products need to cover political and natural disaster assistance in addition to medical

From the insurer’s view, what is the ability of the assistance company to provide a meaningful response while indeed proactively containing costs in that specific region of the world? Having trained professionals to run such operations ‘from the off’ helps eradicate an insured’s emotional decision-making, which is often accompanied by irrational choices and hefty bills. With the correct security response company, all efforts centre around providing the cheapest but most effective solution in terms of security and/or medical assistance. An early notification to the assistance company also ensures that cover can be clearly defined to the claimant at that time; i.e. has the policy actually been triggered according to the definitions and, if so, is there a time limit after which cover may cease to exist? All this information needs to be made clear for the insured – a key role of the assistance company.

Maintenance is key
I spend a significant amount of time looking at the countries in which we are operating and thoroughly checking on those partners who join our network. The criteria is strict and it has to be for good reason. I need to be satisfied I have the coverage and critical means to respond to security-related incidents no matter how big or small the requirement. From a simple task providing secure ground transportation, all the way to a complex evacuation using multiple assets (including aviation) – the process remains the same.

A well-maintained network will stand an assistance company in good stead but you have to keep on top of it. Things change and capabilities fluctuate so remember to always double check. I don’t just take it for granted that a provider is available because they were utilised 12 months ago if I didn’t have any communication with them in the interim. They will equally appreciate regular dialogue and updates from you, as the relationship works both ways. They’re more likely to pull out all the stops if a solid relationship has been established rather than merely a cold call.

A multi-dimensional model
Think about medical too. For some assistance companies, this is a primary consideration, while others tend to sway more towards security. It’s not uncommon to have a medical component to a security operation. If the security company doesn’t have medical assistance capabilities in-house, costs can spiral very fast due to not having pre-established discounted rates and medical networks for cost containment purposes. Also, having an in-house 24-hour medical team to scrutinise admission notes, treatment plans and to monitor medical costs throughout the case is key for medical case management. Time and time again, I see cases where medical support actually comes from a security element as first responders. I use teams who are highly trained and carry all the necessary equipment to stabilise and extract a casualty. Also, there are many instances when an ambulance may need a security escort for safe passage to a hospital or helicopter rendezvous. I strongly believe a multi-dimensional model of security, medical, aviation, land transport, maritime and more is critical to any robust emergency response provider.

Working on a global scale makes it near impossible to get to know everyone but I try, along with my team, to make an effort to visit people when on business trips to solidify our association and build a good rapport with people. Having previously put a face to a name is of huge benefit when calling on their resource. It provides an additional level of comfort to know that someone familiar is assisting and the manner in which they respond may just be the difference needed to resolve things quickly for a smooth operation.

Case in point
Recently, a non-retained entity who was ill-prepared for operating in a high-risk country requested NGS’ assistance. The client had little in the way of proactive security and an over-reliance on routines and familiarity. Regrettably, a destabilisation of the government forced an evacuation of all foreign nationals. Without having access to appropriate security providers who could facilitate a response, the client spent a protracted period locked down, with limited provisions. It wasn’t long before two members of staff contracted malaria and their abandoned offices were looted. When NGS was finally notified of the incident, we provided a fully co-ordinated medical and security response, including safe passage out via aircraft. Fortunately, we are prepared for such ad-hoc requests, although we’d always prefer some warning.

A well-maintained network will stand an assistance company in good stead but you have to keep on top of it

Our solution consisted of providing personnel to secure the abandoned offices to prevent further damage/looting (a direct client service), while concurrently bringing in logistics and live support. Medical treatment was administered and a privately chartered aircraft was arranged for air evacuation. Once ready, in conjunction with the insurers, NGS provided a security escort to move all personnel to the airbridge for safe extraction.

So, to summarise, give insureds the tools to prepare as much as possible. Advise them to leave nothing to chance. For assistance companies: do your research and due diligence – what is available and will it realistically be there when you need it? Finally, maintain and expand your network – maintain a good selection of providers and regularly check in with them.